Archive for February, 2017

Amanita rubescens – The Blusher – an introduced species

The early colonists of Australia were mainly of British origin and they brought with them the trees with which they were familiar.  Such trees include pines and oaks.  With these trees came the fungi that were associated with the roots of the trees.  There are quite of few of these fungi that have now become established in various areas in Australia.  One of these is the infamous Death Cap, Amanita phalloides.

Because of the lethal consequences of eating Amanita phalloides, people have a natural caution about eating anything in the Amanita genus.   This includes some of the most enthusiastic mycophagists, including myself.

I had not been aware of any edible Amanitas in Australia until I heard of Amanita rubescens.  It occurs in the Adelaide hills and in Queensland and probably in places in between.  My encounter with it was in the Adelaide hills.  It was growing in a park filled with oaks and pines and in this case I believe it was growing on the oaks.  Here is what it looks like in its various stages of growth.

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Amanita rubescens at various stages of growth.

Some important general features are the lack of a volva at the base and the presence of ‘warts’ on the surface of the mushroom.  When it is broken open or cut, the white flesh and gills take on a red/pink colour as shown in the next picture.

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Amanita rubescens showing red bruising

There are not too many mushrooms that this could be confused with.  The main one that crops up in the literature is Amanita pantherina.  A distinguishing feature of A. rubescens that sets is apart from A. pantherina is the presence of striations on the annulus.  These are shown in the picture below. You can also see the pink colour of the broken flesh of the cap there.

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Striations on annulus of Amanita rubescens

This mushroom is known to contain a toxic, haemolytic protein that is destroyed by cooking.   This in mind, I cooked some up on a barbecue until they were quite soft.  In fact they were so soft that they did not really appeal much.  This being my first taste of a new mushroom, I tasted the cooked material without swallowing it.  The taste reminded my a bit of Volvopluteus.   I have read reports that it is better cooked hard until it starts to brown.  This is the case with many other mushrooms.

It is scary eating an Amanita for the first time.  People who I know and respect regarding edible mushrooms in Australia cannot bring themselves to eat this one.  My caution was brought into sharp focus the next morning when I felt decidedly ill.  I don’t actually think that this was the mushrooms, as I had felt a little ill the night before with food from the place where I was staying.

I will try this again, next time with hard cooking.

I would like to thank my friend Kate for giving me the heads up about these.  You can see her interesting site about foraging  here. She is in South Australia and really knows her mushrooms.

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Lactarius deliciosus – Saffron milk cap – an east coast favourite.

The Saffron milk cap is a mushroom that occurs widely on the east coast in pine forests.  Foragers are actively encouraged to pick this mushroom in NSW in places like Oberon.  It also occurs in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania.  Reports from Queensland are rare but it is occasionally found there. Sadly, it is not something we see in the pine forests of WA, though there have apparently been unsubstantiated reports of it from the Kewdale area, according to Bougher and Syme (1998).  There is another mention of someone trying to establish this in WA in an earlier paper. I have certainly never seen it in WA.

To view one of these beauties I had to travel to Adelaide on a heads up from some friends there.  These were cropping up in early February of 2017 after some rain, to the general surprise of enthusiasts there.  There were not a lot of them at this time, but I did manage to find this single specimen, to my great joy.  Thanks to Kate et. al. for the heads up!

This is what it looks like from the top.  Notice the pine needles.

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Lactarius deliciosus cap

When cut, the inner surface reveals an orange colour at the margins, as shown below.

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Lactarius deliciosus showing red cut surface

Some texts say that these mushrooms are not particularly good eating and that the name is in fact a misnomer.  To test this out, I took my specimen down to a the barbecue at a local park in suburban Adelaide and fried it up with a little olive oil.  Adelaide is so well endowed with such parks and barbecues and I am sure that they are a popular gathering place. On this particular day however there was nobody else around though, and perhaps that is because it was 42 degrees. All this reinforces the oddity of finding mushrooms at this time of year.

Anyway, back to the taste test.  I found that the smell and the taste were intimately entwined and that it was a pleasant and unusual taste.  It is hard to describe a smell or taste but I kept thinking of vegetables like carrots.  This may well have been influenced by the orange colour.  The other very distinctive and great thing was the firmness. This is easily the most firm mushroom that I have ever cooked and eaten.

I look forward to eating more of these.  Who knows, perhaps they might crop up in WA?  Time will tell.

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